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Did pension plan accounting contribute to a stock market bubble?

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  • Julia Lynn Coronado
  • Steven A. Sharpe

Abstract

During the 1990s, the asset portfolios of defined-benefit (DB) pension plans ballooned with the booming stock market. Due to current accounting guidelines, the robust growth in pension assets resulted in a stealthy but substantial boost to the profits of sponsoring corporations. This study assesses the extent to which equity investors were fooled by pension accounting. First, we test whether stock prices reflected the fair market value of sponsoring firms' net pension assets reported in footnotes to the 10-K or, instead, some capitalization rate on the pension cost accruals embedded in the income statement. The results strongly favor the latter view. Additional tests indicate that the market does not value a firm's "pension earnings" differently from its "core earnings", suggesting that pension earnings are often overvalued. Simulations show that a failure to differentiate between core and pension earnings induces large valuation errors for many firms, although this pension effect did not materially contribute to aggregate in overvaluation 2000. However, overvaluation from pension earnings reached 5 percent in the aggregate in 2001, when the steep stock price decline and the drop in interest rates had slashed pension net asset values but not pension earnings.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.) in its series Finance and Economics Discussion Series with number 2003-38.

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Date of creation: 2003
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedgfe:2003-38

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Keywords: Stock market ; Pensions;

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References

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  1. Alicia H. Munnell & Nicole Ernsberger (assistant), 1987. "Pension contributions and the stock market," New England Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, issue Nov, pages 3-14.
  2. Sharpe, William F., 1976. "Corporate pension funding policy," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 3(3), pages 183-193, June.
  3. Tepper, Irwin, 1981. "Taxation and Corporate Pension Policy," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 36(1), pages 1-13, March.
  4. Barth, Mary E. & Beaver, William H. & Landsman, Wayne R., 1992. "The market valuation implications of net periodic pension cost components," Journal of Accounting and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 15(1), pages 27-62, March.
  5. Alan L. Gustman & Thomas L. Steinmeier & Olivia Mitchell, 1994. "The role of pensions in the labor market: A survey of the literature," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 47(3), pages 417-438, April.
  6. Zvi Bodie & John B. Shoven, 1983. "Financial Aspects of the United States Pension System," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number bodi83-1, July.
  7. Zvi Bodie & Jay O. Light & Randall Morck & Robert A. Taggart, Jr., 1986. "Funding and Asset Allocation in Corporate Pension Plans: An Empirical Investigation," NBER Working Papers 1315, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Davidson, Russell & MacKinnon, James G, 1981. "Several Tests for Model Specification in the Presence of Alternative Hypotheses," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 49(3), pages 781-93, May.
  9. Irwin Tepper, 1981. "Taxation and Corporate Pension Policy," NBER Working Papers 0661, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Steven A. Sharpe, 2002. "How does the market interpret analysts' long-term growth forecasts?," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2002-7, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  11. Jeremy I. Bulow & Randall Morck & Lawrence H. Summers, 1987. "How Does the Market Value Unfunded Pension Liabilities?," NBER Chapters, in: Issues in Pension Economics, pages 81-110 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. Jeffrey R. Brown, 2007. "Guaranteed Trouble: The Economic Effects of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation," NBER Working Papers 13438, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Edward M. Werner, 2011. "The value relevance of pension accounting information: evidence from Fortune 200 firms," Review of Accounting and Finance, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 10(4), pages 427-458, November.
  3. Julia Coronado & Olivia S. Mitchell & Steven A. Sharpe & S. Blake Nesbitt, 2008. "Footnotes aren’t enough: the impact of pension accounting on stock values," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2008-04, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  4. Kamakshya Trivedi & Garry Young, 2006. "Defined benefit company pensions and corporate valuations: simulation and empirical evidence from the United Kingdom," Bank of England working papers 289, Bank of England.
  5. Ana Isabel Morais, 2012. "Value relevance of alternative methods of accounting for actuarial gains and losses," International Journal of Accounting, Auditing and Performance Evaluation, Inderscience Enterprises Ltd, vol. 8(1), pages 69-90.
  6. David Love & Paul Smith & David Wilcox, 2007. "Why Do Firms Offer Risky Defined Benefit Pension Plans?," Department of Economics Working Papers 2007-04, Department of Economics, Williams College.
  7. David A. Love & Paul A. Smith & David Wilcox, 2009. "Should risky firms offer risk-free DB pensions?," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2009-20, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  8. Daniel Bergstresser & Mihir A. Desai & Joshua Rauh, 2004. "Earnings Manipulation and Managerial Investment Decisions: Evidence from Sponsored Pension Plans," NBER Working Papers 10543, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Simon Kwan, 2003. "Pension accounting and reported earnings," FRBSF Economic Letter, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue jul4.
  10. Antonio Torrero Mañas, 2005. "The increasing relevance of the stock market in the world: A new scenario," Working Papers 01/05, Instituto Universitario de Análisis Económico y Social.
  11. Enrica Detragiache, 2003. "Company Pension Plans, Stock Market Returns, and Labor Demand," IMF Working Papers 03/222, International Monetary Fund.
  12. Love, David A. & Smith, Paul A. & Wilcox, David W., 2011. "The effect of regulation on optimal corporate pension risk," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 101(1), pages 18-35, July.
  13. Franzoni, Francesco, 2009. "Underinvestment vs. overinvestment: Evidence from price reactions to pension contributions," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(3), pages 491-518, June.

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